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life sciences Accomplishments

Mar 22, 2017
Elizabeth Stacy (Life Sciences) and colleagues, including Donald Price (Life Sciences), published "Incipient Ecological Speciation between Successional Varieties of a Dominant Tree Involves Intrinsic Postzygotic Isolating Barriers" in the journal Ecology and Evolution. This study demonstrates that partial intrinsic postzygotic barriers may be among the first isolating barriers to arise during speciation between large, hybridizing populations of a long-lived species.

Mar 9, 2017
Vivian Sam and Matt Rader (Life Sciences) were featured in "Study Breaks," a national undergrad write-up. Both are pursuing biology degrees with concentrations in ecology and evolution.

Feb 16, 2017
Dennis Bazylinski (Life Sciences) and a team of international researchers recently published a research article titled “Origin of Microbial Biomineralization and Magnetotaxis During the Archean” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that shows magnetic navigation by swimming bacteria may be more ancient than previously thought. Bazylinski’s research team shows genomic evidence that magnetotaxis, the production of magnetosomes (intracellular magnetic crystals in certain bacteria) and the subsequent use of the Earth’s magnetic field for navigation, likely evolved in the Archean (a geologic era 4 to 2.5 billion years ago). It is during this period the Earth’s crust cooled and the continents formed, and before there was significant oxygen gas in the atmosphere — far earlier than previously thought. The team’s finding, the first that show data to support the conclusions, also suggest that magnetotactic bacteria may have been the first organisms to utilize the Earth’s geomagnetic field for navigation, but they may have also been the first biomineralizing organisms on Earth.  

Feb 15, 2017
Ai-Sun "Kelly" Tseng (Life Sciences) published an article, “Seeing the Future: Using Xenopus to Understand Eye Regeneration” in genesis: The Journal of Genetics and Development. Graduate student Cindy Kha’s images were selected for the journal cover illustration. This invited review article is part of of a special issue focusing on biological advances and emerging technologies using the frog, Xenopus, as a model organism.  Tseng’s research focuses on understanding the mechanisms that enable animals to regrow organs and tissues with the goal of applying this knowledge toward developing regenerative therapeutics.

Jan 10, 2017
Frank van Breukelen (Life Sciences) received a four-year, $797,810 National Science Foundation grant to study hibernation in tenrecs. The current views about mammalian hibernation were developed using traditional models such as the ground squirrel. In these models, hibernators periodically rewarm to active levels between bouts of depressed metabolism. In this proposal, a unique model of hibernation will be used. Common tenrecs (Tenrec ecaudatus) originate from Madagascar and in contrast to all other known hibernators, do not periodically arouse from hibernation. Moreover, these mammals have a very variable active body temperature (Tb) which allows for direct comparison between active and hibernating tenrecs at the same body temperatures.  The proposed research will determine the extent and duration of metabolic savings associated with hibernation. Kidney function, protein synthesis, and protein degradation are normally depressed during hibernation. The proposed research will determine how kidney function, protein synthesis, and protein degradation are affected by temperature and hibernation status in the more variable tenrec. Outreach efforts will include development of a television program on hibernation.

Jan 5, 2017
Dennis Bazylinski (Life Sciences) and a team of researchers recently published a research article titled "Measuring Spectroscopy and Magnetism of Extracted and Intracellular Magnetosomes Using Soft X-ray Ptychography" in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Biomagnetism refers to phenomenon where living creatures, such as bacteria, algae, fish, and birds, can detect and use local magnetic fields to their advantage. The so-called magnetotactic bacteria are an ideal model for investigating biomagnetism. These organisms biomineralize membrane-bounded internal magnetic crystals (called magnetosomes), of either the magnetic minerals magnetite or greigite, that cause them to orient and swim along magnetic field lines. While many details of the biomineralization process are not well understood, it is clear that the process is under genetic control. Spectro-ptychography, which combines high spatial resolution and high sensitivity chemical speciation, is a new technique that offers a powerful probe for biomineralization studies. In this study, the use of spectro-ptychography demonstrated some new details regarding how magnetotactic bacteria biomineralize the mineral magnetite. This is the first report examining magnetotactic bacteria and magnetosomes using this form of spectro-ptychography. It is important to understand how magnetotactic bacteria biomineralize magnetosome crystals because nano-sized magnetic crystals have proven useful in numerous medical, scientific, and commercial applications. 

Jan 4, 2017
Helen Wing (Life Sciences) has received a three-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant worth $445,008. It is a continuation of a research project that now has received nine years of continual NIH funding. The project focuses on virulence gene regulation in the bacterial pathogen Shigella.  Nucleoid structuring proteins found within bacterial cells play an important role in compacting and organizing DNA, but they often silence the transcription of genes that they sequester. Molecular events leading to the displacement or relocation of nucleoid structuring proteins are central to bacterial physiology and virulence, but the mechanistic details remain obscure. An improved understanding of these processes could lead to the discovery of novel drug targets and/or development of new antibacterials. The long-term goal of this project is to fully understand mechanisms of transcriptional silencing and anti-silencing in the bacterial pathogen Shigella. The new project builds on Wing’s existing studies and specifically focuses on characterizing VirB, a protein that overcomes the effects of nucleoid structuring proteins so that virulence genes are expressed. In this project, researchers will characterize the VirB binding site and examine the involvement of VirB oligomerization and resulting changes in DNA supercoiling in the regulatory activity of VirB.  

Dec 23, 2016
Ai-Sun Tseng (Life Sciences) recently published a research article titled "Effects of the Biocide Methylisothiazolinone on Xenopus laevis Wound Healing and Tail Regeneration” in Aquatic Toxicology. This study shows that the commonly used preservative, methylisothiazolinone, impairs the natural repair ability of frog tadpoles to regrow tails. Co-authors include four former and current UNLV undergraduate researchers: Nicole Delos Santos, '14 BS and current post-baccalaureate student Summer Azmat, '15 BS Yesenia Cuenca, a current student Jessica Drenth, '14 BS All four were recipients of a National Institutes of Health/Nation Science Foundation undergraduate research fellowship. Tseng’s research focuses on understanding the mechanisms that enable animals to regrow organs and tissues with the goal of applying this knowledge toward developing regenerative therapeutics.        

Dec 9, 2016
Scott Abella (Life Sciences) recently gave a talk titled, "National Park Treasures: Celebrating Conservation" at the Lake Mead Visitor Center. He shared the stories of conservation challenges and successes of the National Park Service restoration efforts during the past 100 years. His work as a researcher has supported Lake Mead and other parks throughout the Southwest. Abella is the author of Conserving America’s National Parks.  

Dec 2, 2016
Frank van Breukelen (Life Science) has received a four-year National Science Foundation research grant totaling $797,810 to study hibernation in tenrecs.  Tenrecs are esoteric mammals from Madagascar that have a unique form of hibernation. These animals are able to hibernate or maintain active body temperatures from at least 12-28 °C. His proposal will extend on his lab's current work and investigate what happens to normally vital homeostatic processes like kidney function and protein synthesis.